BACKYARD BLISS | WASPA, the key to great permaculture

Water, access, structures, plants and animals: it's the order of things that makes the permaculture design framework successful. Photo: Hannah Moloney.
Water, access, structures, plants and animals: it's the order of things that makes the permaculture design framework successful. Photo: Hannah Moloney.

Good Life Permaculture

There's an acronym, WASPA, which is really popular in permaculture circles. It stands for water, access, structures, plants and animals and lays out the order in which you should implement your design for ultimate ease and flow. Let me step you through the thinking and considerations.

1. Water: Implementing water first up can include large scale earth works where you have big machinery coming through your property. As we're on an urban block there are no dams, buts lots of terracing, and passive water harvesting systems, including swale paths. You really don't want to be trying to do this work once you have other things in place, like fencing, as you'll end up having to rip it out and put it back again - a whole world of pain, which is best to avoid.

Of course, water systems can be on a much smaller scale and involve installing taps, drip line irrigation, rain tanks or simply digging a trench with a mattock and shovel to direct water flow. Regardless of scale, it's best to get this all sorted first so you can then support what's to come - 'cause lets face it folks, water is life.

2. Access: Access is super important and determines how you move around the site. If you get it right, good access paths can improve efficiency drastically as well as double up with water harvesting systems. Implementing access paths can often happen at the same time, or very closely after water systems are put in place. When working with large machinery, you can double up by carving in water harvesting methods and access roads/paths at the same time - this is what we did with our swale paths and it worked a treat.

3. Structures: Structures can include tool/machinery sheds, fencing, animals shelters and your house (if building from scratch). At our own property there was an existing house (yay) with a downstairs space which we use as a workshop/tool shed. The floppy fence is one of my favourite structures on our place, it allows us to grow and harvest crops without feeding all the local wildlife. Well worth the investment in time, money and energy.

Before you start going crazy with planting your crops, your plants will benefit massively from having good water systems and access set up first. Photo: Shutterstock.

Before you start going crazy with planting your crops, your plants will benefit massively from having good water systems and access set up first. Photo: Shutterstock.

4. Plants: Now, and only now, should you be looking to plant vegetation - edibles and otherwise. In our area, if you plant your crops before you have put your fencing up you might as well declare your garden a wallaby, possum and rabbit feast. Your plants will also benefit massively from having good water systems set up and access paths for easy harvesting and maintenance. It all fits together beautifully. The first plants we put in were stacks of annual green manures to improve the soil.

5. Animals: Last, but not least, animals enter the system. For animals to thrive and not just survive they need a space which is well suited to their needs, otherwise it's simply not ethical or appropriate to have them in there at all. We started with chickens, ducks and honey bees at our own property, then we added goats to the family too.

We had a few hiccups with our ducks in the beginning. Realistically, we got them before our space was ready, not only that, they turned out to be the wrong breed and caused havoc to our lettuce.

This is where we come back to WASPA. If we had followed this to the book, our ducks would have been another year away so we could finish installing the right structures and plant systems to support them and us.

Our rather beautiful chicken coop. Photo: Hannah Moloney.

Our rather beautiful chicken coop. Photo: Hannah Moloney.

But real life doesn't always work like that. We re-homed our little duck family at a friend's house while we completed some of our foundational structures before bringing them back. Afterall, permaculture is all about working with nature rather than for or against it.

So here's to learning, stuffing up, and learning some more - a non-stop, ever-evolving process.

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a permaculture landscape design and education enterprise that creates resilient and regenerative lives and landscapes.